OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s health minister will make a point about gay rights in Russia by attending the Sochi Paralympics with his husband, but the Dutch king and prime minister are under pressure to boycott the main Winter Games.
President Vladimir Putin has faced calls for a boycott of the Olympics, which open on Friday, over a law banning the spread of gay propaganda among minors which has threatened his attempts to use the Games to showcase Russia as a modern state.
The Paralympics will be held in Sochi after the main Games.
“I cannot wait to watch and support all the Norwegian athletes,” said Health Minister Bent Hoeie, who will be the Norwegian government’s official representative at the Paralympics. “These are athletes with disabilities who perform at a very high level.”
Speaking to the Stavanger Aftenblad newspaper, Hoeie said it was normal for a cabinet official to travel with a spouse on such an official visit.
“Having said that, everyone understands what two married men think about gay rights,” Hoeie told the newspaper.
Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation and is likely to finish high in the medal table in Sochi. Oslo is also bidding to host the 2022 winter Olympics.
Gay activists say the “homosexual propaganda law”, signed by Putin last year, has caused a rise of homophobia and hate crimes against gays, casting a shadow over the $50-billion Games.
Russian officials say the law is intended only to protect young people and not to discriminate against homosexuals. It says there will be no discrimination at the Olympics and that gays are welcome.
“I’ve been asked to comment on this so much that... it’s as if people are more interested in this than in the results (at the Games),” said Svetlana Zhurova, a former Olympic champion who is now part of the Russian organizing team.
“I see no problems... There can be no discrimination and there is none.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron are not attending the Games. The United States has included three openly gay representatives their official delegation to the Games.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander will, however, attend the Olympic opening ceremony and the country’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte will have talks with Putin in Sochi.
Rutte has received a petition from 38,000 people protesting against the high powered delegation and Dutch gay rights defenders have called for a boycott.
The calls follow a turbulent year in Dutch-Russian relations. The number two at the Dutch Embassy was assaulted in his Moscow apartment and the letters LGBT - standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - were written in pink lipstick on his hall mirror.
Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in The Hague and Timothy Heritage in Sochi